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Perspective on strike is relative

Life, it seems, is all about the math.

That's a pretty bold statement from someone who grew up loving words, but hating numbers.

It's something I've known all along, but never have I seen it more clearly than during my first week as a reporter for the Austin Post-Bulletin.

Today's paper features several stories marking the 25 years that have passed since the 1985 strike at Hormel.

Covering those milestones isn't an unusual angle for newspapers to take; next year, for example, be prepared for a multitude of stories about the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.


But revisiting those times is an incredibly difficult thing for those most affected.

That's where the math comes in:

Emotion is directly proportionate to your proximity of the event.

The union members, union leaders, civic leaders and residents of Austin in 1985 remain passionate in their opinions. This anniversary is not a look back, it's a look around. The majority of people contacted for our stories declined comment -- politely, of course -- saying they'd rather not talk about such an emotional time.

I was tasked with a "man on the street" story, finding six people willing to answer this question: Has Austin healed from the P-9 strike 25 years ago?

Roger Johnson of rural Austin was the only person who would go on record. His answer was no, but he declined to elaborate.

The other eight people I asked wanted nothing to do with it. It was a difficult time, they said.

It still is.


Other math lessons I learned in reporting these stories:

Long division is hard.

This week, I heard some heartbreaking stories about families, friends and neighbors whose differing views drove them apart.

Brothers R.J. and Ron Bergstrom stopped speaking.

Kenneth Hagen, a Local P-9 officer, lost his best friend.

Neighbors lost their homes.

The community was fractured by opinions; many of the scars are still visible.

Addition changes the bottom line.


Austin is obviously a more diverse city than it was before the strike. Different cultures may be intimidating at first blush, but if not for immigration, I'd be in Ireland, eating potatoes.

My husband would be in Italy, eating pasta.

Where would you be?

Most likely, not in Austin.

There can be more than one solution.

Ask 10 different people what should have been done back in 1985, and you'll get 10 different answers.

Perfect solutions are rare; the best answer is to find your own.

Do what you can live with, and do it with integrity.


The Bergstrom brothers speak to each other again, although not about the strike.

Hagen misses his friend, who died before the two could reconcile.

Changes were made to the meatpacking industry; more will undoubtedly come.

And finally, this:

Two negatives do not make a positive.

There were no winners in the events of 1985-86. Continuing the argument will never change that.

Acknowledging the differences and moving on, however, will help.

I hope that continues to happen, Austin.


Good luck with your math.

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